Chapter Sixteen, Part One

Nemnir’s song was beautiful. Deep and rich, his voice reminded her of the thick dark honey her mother’d had jars and jars of, high up on the many shelves of their caravan when Eris’d been small. That, she’d told the curious girl with the wandering hands for the rich taste, had come from the mountains where the voln there had hives that buzzed with busyness by yellow gorst flowers. Nem sang of that home, of the terraces banked against the steep stone. Of the winds that whipped over and through their rounded hide tents, and that carved the voln there, slowly, into strong men and women. He sang most of all of the love the mountains had for her children. And all the while his voice soared for them he held onto his own mountain; the rough stone pendant that he’d raged and killed to get back again was held tight in his right fist. The woods-voln were enchanted, and when his song picked up its heels and became a faster more triumphant battle chant, they were ready with hands held out flat above the earth and fallen wood to beat out the rhythm he gave them. Even Pierson and the city-voln lads tried to capture and share the beat, smiling as some of them fell behind or ran to fast ahead. Eris, sat next to Redril as his honoured guest, took up the beat and remembered some of the wilder rhythms her mother’s mother had tried to tried to teach her. A smile grew on her face as her staccato drumming matched the others. Then a crescendo of pace and volume and the song was done, Nemnir smiling back at the whooping and cheering woods-voln.

“A fine song.” Redril praised him loudly and simply, making the mountain-voln nod his head awkwardly, finally aware it seemed of all the attention being paid him.

The feast continued; wooden bowls of richly flavoured deer meat were passed about as the third such offering was carved upon its spit. The Attavine were depleted, but still they’d sent out their best hunters and they had not shamed their reputations. And as long as there was food, the feast went on. Small children, those who had made it through the unnatural poisoning by sewer-pox and still bore its marks, had danced by the firepit when the feasting had begun. But now they lay with their heads in their mother’s laps as the hours grew later and later. Eris did not blame them. Before Nem’s song she had felt her eyes dropping too, even while trying to continue pleasantries with Redril. Pierson, across the way from her with Sarai and Callia either side of him had caught sight of her dipping head and had moved to find a way to excuse her, but she had shaken her head at that. The Attavine needed this celebration more than she needed sleep. He’d settled back down to his seat again, and returned to his ladies’ gentle attentions and murmers.

Thinking of Pierson with his loves reminded her to look for Orrin. Since her healing of Nem she’d not noticed his usual shadowing of her. She looked about the circle, taking in where the boys were sitting with the woods-voln; as though it was the most normal thing for them. Nem was talking quietly with an Attavine hunter, enjoying having a conversation with someone. Jayk was making doe eyes at a couple of younger female warriors, and if she’d expected Orrin to be anywhere it would have been to be in Jayk’s place, trying out his charm as the young city-voln was trying. Without success. But he wasn’t to be seen.

“You look concerned Eris Atta-Sutith?”

“It’s nothing.”

“You watch out for your people.” Redril nodded. “And before… you watched out for mine.”

She looked up at the serious face of Redril. She liked the Attavine, but did not find him easy to talk to. As skins of a bitter but heady cider were passed about he passed them on, while Eris allowed herself a deep gulp to warm herself down to her feet, both wyrd and normal. And when he spoke he only talked on matters of deep importance. He’d clapped along with the others, but his face had not shown any particular enjoyment of Nemnir’s song. Even his praise at the end had sounded stilted to her. Eris worried how his people would take to this new, so serious, leader. But then, she’d not had a chance to really know Redval. Perhaps the Attavine preferred serious faces in charge of them?

“How do you feel Redril… taking on the leadership of the Attavine?”

“I am prepared. My father always expected me to follow him as leader, and none of the elders ever contradicted him.”

No, Eris thought, but did they encourage him either?

“They loved my father. It will be hard to live up to that legacy.” Redril admitted quietly. “If I could inspire people as you do…”

She scoffed, and then corrected her inelegant gesture by sitting more upright. “What I can do inspires them. Orrin follows me about because he sees me as some kind of new bastard god. Of all the bloody things. But if I could not do what I can do he’d have scorned me as any city-coln might.”

“Perhaps.” Redril admitted. “But if you asked them to follow you into battle… they would.”

“Against the Ireblade you mean.”

“We will fight Eris. You were right to call me to my senses and make us rest. But you were also right to offer us the Atta.” Redril’s eyes bored into her own. “And you were right to talk about taking the fight to Lios.”

She nodded. The power that had flown through her and made the Atta in her mouth was still there, waiting for her anger to bring up again. She could make more Atta, and they could paint their arrowheads with it. The Attavine could bear their own greening. And other greenings could bring their arrows with them… to pierce the god-king all through.

“I see you thinking.”

“No one has ever killed a god.”

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you of the Pierced One who taught us to use our bows?”

“Of course, but…”

“One arrow above, one through the neck and one through his body. That would kill most, I think.” Redril shrugged. Eris thought he might be joking, but there was no humour in his face. Gods, she thought, please help this man lead his people.

“Perhaps I should talk with our storyteller about this. Have you seen him?” Eris looked about again.

“I have not.” Said Redril plainly. “Be free to go find him. Sleep is sneaking up on some of my people and the deer is all but bones now. The feasting will end soon. And soon we will think more of fighting.”

Eris nodded and uncrossed her legs to walk away from the fire and circle. The dark of the camp was still lit up by its dancing flames though, and she saw the shadow shapes of people sitting and talking thrown onto the flats of the tents as she walked about. She finally found Orrin just where she had sat with Nemnir earlier. The fallen tree where she had healed him; half in and half out of the camp.

“Orrin Storyteller, why are you sitting in the darkness when there is a feast at hand?!”

The young man looked up at her, his eyes shining in the dark, but haunted by something.

“Redril would have us fight the god-king. What do your stories tell you about killing gods?” She tried a jovial tone. This was not like the city-voln; sitting away and alone from the others while drink and female company was available.

“I’ve not heard such a tale.” He said quietly.

“Not even of the Pierced One? He’s a woods-voln favourite, so perhaps not…” Eris drew close enough to see Orrin’s face. Downcast and almost as serious as Redril’s.

“Orrin?”

“Please Eris, I need some time alone.”

“Of course…” She turned to leave, but stopped. “No.”

“No?”

“You have not given me time alone when I wanted it! So why should I grant you any different?”

“I don’t need another telling-off mother-Eris.”

Eris frowned. “And after the last telling off you were in good spirits enough to needle at me for healing even after I had said I couldn’t! What’s different now?”

“I-I don’t know. Everything feels different. And even so, the same.”

“Bloody riddles, Orrin?” She was half tempted to go after all. The more time she spent with the city-voln lads and the storyteller the less certain she was that there was any great change in maturity that happened between their age and Orrin’s. Pierson had his sane moments, so perhaps it was something that came much later on in the lifespan of males from the cities.

“I’ve seen you do great things before. You even healed me. But since Nemnir’s tongue… gods! I can’t explain how I feel.”

“You’re a storyteller Orrin, this is very bad for your reputation as a crafter of words!”

She was surprised to see him flinch a little at her harsh words.

“Please Eris. I’m having a theological crisis here.”

“Oh, don’t throw big words I don’t bloody well know at me!” Eris stomped her wyrd foot, without even thinking how immature that move might look. And it drew Orrin’s eyes to it, paining his face even more.

“Very soon Redril is going to his people to the Ireblades. And I’ve promised will lend him our strength. You’re a fair fighter, no matter what you thought of yourself before. We need you. And we don’t need you getting stabbed in the face because you were too deep into some bloody ‘thealogical crisis’!”

“Theological.”

“Whatever. I don’t even know what that means!”

“It means I’ve devoted my life to the gods, and now I am talking with one! And I am… I am not good enough to serve you. I am weak and I am afraid.”

Eris threw up her hands. “You’re a bloody idiot, that’s what you are.” She turned to go again, took a few steps and then paused, a thought occurring. She returned.

“Orrin, what happens when priests of Lios get ordained. Pierson’s been through it, but you haven’t have you? Not yet.”

“They study at the temple of their city until the high priests judge them worthy. I’d been there a while longer than some. I think deep down they knew my devotions were false, my repentances a mummer’s game. Or maybe they just wanted me to continue to be a hard working novice in the gardens and library, and not some steadily fattening, useless, priest.” He muttered. “And once you’re chosen you join a caravan heading south with coin from the  repentances, bound for Liosinium. There the novices are presented to Lios and he blesses them, making them his priests.”

“You see him?!”

“Oh no. There’s a golden statue of him in the greatest of the hundred temples of Lios in the centre of the world. But the Lios-lovers think he looks through it. If you are accepted a great gong rings out. If not, well… some are taken away and never seen again.”

“And that makes you a priest? Some noise from a statue?”

Orrin shrugged. “We don’t have any rituals for the bastard gods. That’s one thing the Lios-lovers have at least.”

Eris frowned, her thought crystalizing into a plan. Orrin could be a pain in the arse, with all his compliments and reverence, but he was one of them now. He mucked in with chores as much as the city-voln lads. He’d worked hard to learn at the bow. He’d even made efforts even to befriend Jayk, realising that the boy needed banter and jokes. He’d respected Callia’s rejection of him, and made her his friend along with Pierson and Sarai. His tales entertained and enlightened them about histories they’d never known. And his heart was good.

“Kneel.” She commanded simply. “Come here and kneel before me.”

There was that moment of consternation again, this time brought about by her seriousness. “What game is this Eris?”

“I am Eris Atta-Sutith and I would have you kneel.” She paused, and put emphasis on her next word. “Novice.”

He was on his feet and then kneeling before her in a moment. She was no golden statue, but she was the focus of his confusion. She saw why now. She’d been right to shout at him before for not recognising that she was just a girl. Who ‘pisses’ and ‘shits’, she thought, cringing inside a little at her choice of words. But the city-voln man still saw her as so much more than that, and did not know how to treat her. Did not know where he fit into a world where one of his gods was a young girl and not a distant cold statue at the centre of the world.

She reached down and cup his cheek with her hand. “I am Eris Atta-Sutith, and I choose you as my first priest.” He had nothing to heal; no wounds or broken bones, or missing tongues or feet. So she concentrated on the feeling she’d gotten from the cider the Attavine made, the nice warmth that had spread throughout her body after the first bitterness on her tongue. And she doubled it. Orrin’s eyes opened wider.

“Are you… are you making me feel drunk?!”

Eris smiled. “There’s more being passed around the campfire if you need it.” She stepped back.

Orrin laughed, the feeling making him find the situation all the funnier as he staggered back up onto his feet and stood wobbling a little in front of her. “Will you join me, She Who Once Made Me Drunk?”

She smiled at the name, but shook her head. “I need to sleep now I think.”

Orrin bowed deeply to her and walked his way, a little unsteadily, back to the circle. Eris watched her first priest go with a wry smile on her face. It wasn’t what she thought she’d be doing this night. She wasn’t even sure if it had been the right decision. But getting Orrin out of his muddled head and back into his stories was a good enough reason for playing at being a god. She saw him as she found the tent the Attavine had given her, sitting next to Nemnir and urging the mountain-voln to sing again, with him. And so it was a soft low ballad with both men’s voices twined in it that sung her to sleep that night.

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